[OPE-L:527] abstract labor

Tony Smith (tonys@iastate.edu)
Tue, 21 Nov 1995 09:58:11 -0800

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The discussion on abstract labor in Volume I on the list has proceeded
on the assumption that Marx held one consistent view, and our job is
just to find out what it was. I think we ought to consider seriously
the possiblity explored in Geert Reuten's article "The Difficult Labor
of a Theory of Social Value" (MARX'S METHOD IN CAPITAL, ed. Moseley,
Humanities). Geert argued that there are a number of incompatible
perspectives on value theory at the start of Volume I. Mino is correct
that the following is completely clear in and of itself: "...all labour
is an expenditure of human labour-power, in the physiological sense, and
it is in this quality of being equal, or abstract, human labour that it
forms the value of commodities." (Penguin 137) But just two paragraphs
later Marx wrote regarding commodities that "their objective character
as values is therefore purely social. From this it follows
self-evidently that it can only appear in the social relation between
commodity and commodity." (138-39) Here I take Marx to assert that it
is "self-evident" that the only possible way to measure the abstract
labor in/value of a commodity is through the social process of
exchanging it with another commodity (which soon turns out to be money).
I myself think the later option is more viable; no matter how we measure
the physiological expenditure of labor power we

could be simply measuring concrete labor that turns out to be socially
wasted, not abstract labor that has created value. But even if it
should turn out that there is some way we can bring the two approaches
together, it does not seem that Marx himself did so.
Tony Smith